On October 7, the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary—looking back to the great victory in 1571 of the Holy League, Christian naval forces who defeated the invading Ottoman Empire in the historic battle of Lepanto.
And on October 7, thousands of people of faith—in cities across America—will stand in silent solidarity, participating in the annual Life Chain.
The link between these events—the historic defeat of invading Muslim forces by Catholic warships in 1571, and the vigils planned across our nation today to protest abortion—is prayer. At both events, it is the Rosary which is the weapon.
On October 7, 1571, a patchwork fleet of Catholic ships primarily from Spain, Venice and Genoa, under the command of Don Juan of Austria, was at a distinct disadvantage. The much larger fleet of the Ottoman Empire—a force with 12,000 to 15,000 Christian slaves as rowers—was extending toward Europe.
However, St. Pope Pius V, realizing that the Muslim Turks had a decided material advantage, called upon all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory. Christians gathered in villages and towns to pray as the sea battle raged; and at the hour of victory the pope—who was hundreds of miles away at the Vatican—is said to have gotten up from a meeting, walked over to an open window exclaiming “The Christian fleet is victorious!” and shed tears of joy and thanksgiving to God.
The toll of the sea battle was great: The Holy League lost 50 of its galleys and suffered some 13,000 casualties. The Turks, however, lost much more: Their leader Ali Pasha was killed, along with 25,000 of his sailors. The Ottoman fleet lost 210 of its 250 ships, of which 130 were captured by the Holy League. Coming at what was seen as a crisis point for Christianity, the victory at Lepanto stemmed Ottoman incursion into the Mediterranean and prevented their influence from spreading through Europe. Through the intervention of Our Lady, the Hand of God prevented the Muslims of the East from overcoming the Christian West.
The epic victory has been commemorated in literature: Miguel de Cervantes, a Spanish soldier wounded in the battle, recovered to become a novelist, poet and playwright; and he was so inspired by this battle that he incorporated elements of it in his own acclaimed novel, Don Quixote. And philosopher/writer and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton retold the story in his 1915 ballad, Lepanto.
In thanksgiving for Mary’s patronage, in 1571 Pope Pius V instituted “Our Lady of Victory” as an annual feast to commemorate the victory in the Battle of Lepanto. Two years later, in 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title of this feastday to “Feast of the Holy Rosary.” And in 1716, Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the whole of the Latin Rite, inserting it into the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, and assigning it to the first Sunday in October. In 1913, Pope Pius X changed the date to October 7, as part of his effort to restore celebration of the liturgy of the Sundays.
The Life Chain
LIFE CHAIN is a peaceful and prayerful public witness of pro-life individuals standing for 90 minutes praying for our nation and for an end to abortion. It is a visual statement of solidarity by the Christian community that abortion kills children and that the Church supports the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death.
Annually, on the first Sunday in October, LIFE CHAIN invites the churches in each city and town across North America to stand on a designated local sidewalk and pray for 90 minutes, while holding one of the following approved pro-life sign messages:
- ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN
- JESUS FORGIVES AND HEALS
- ADOPTION: THE LOVING OPTION
- LORD, FORGIVE US AND OUR NATION
- ABORTION HURTS WOMEN
- PRAY TO END ABORTION
- LIFE—THE FIRST INALIENABLE RIGHT
- PREGNANT? Need Help? 800-395-HELP
In 2011, over 1500 cities and towns held Life Chains (in over 1700 locations). This year, National Life Chain Sunday 2012 will be held October 7 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.